We Are Chicago:Student Life in the Collections of the University of Chicago Archives
Tracking student life at the University of Chicago can be a
daunting challenge. Today the University supports more than 300
Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). These groups provide a focus
for an amazing range of student activities – community service,
political advocacy, sports, fine arts, Greek life, cultural and ethnic
associations, and spirituality, among others. Beyond the University
RSOs, student life includes residence hall and apartment life, and
extends to experiences across the neighborhood and city, whether in
coffee shops and restaurants, galleries, volunteer agencies, political
campaigns, or beyond.
Understanding the history of student life is equally complex. Since
the University of Chicago opened in 1892, students have organized an
amazing array of social, academic, cultural, residential, athletic,
literary, and political groups. Student activities have run the gamut:
publishing magazines, yearbooks, and newsletters; staging theatrical
performances and art exhibits; broadcasting radio shows; putting on
formal dances; showcasing documentary and classic films, and raising
funds for community causes. More than a few of these interests can be
traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, when student organizations
flourished on the campus of the first University of Chicago founded in
Collecting and preserving this diverse and fascinating student
history is part of the mission of the University Archives. We Are
Chicago displays some of the most fascinating documents, photographs,
and artifacts from the archival collections. Some were donations
presented by individual alumni or their families. Others were responses
to appeals in the alumni magazine or gifts of student organizations,
fraternities, and clubs. Taken together, these unique historical items
show the range of the archival collections, but they also suggest the
many gaps waiting to be filled. The University Archives welcomes
donations from alumni, students, and community neighbors who have
historical materials on student life that can be preserved and made
available to the students and researchers of the future.
When the university was founded in 1892 the proposed school color had been orange and grey but a committee formed to come up with the color scheme dropped the grey before it was presented to campus. Unofficially, the golden yellow had been chosen, due to an abundance of the goldenrod flower in the area, before the committee had made its choice. Orange, however, proved to be a problem since Syracuse University, founded in 1890, had already chosen orange as its school color.
Committee conversations about a color for the university continued. Green and red were suggested at one time (a personal favorite of athletics director Amos A. Stagg) as did the color scarlet. Scarlet, as was written in an editorial of the student paper The Weekly, “is the color of the gay and beautiful, that shows the richest on the field, best on women’s dress or in flags and ribbons or in the suits of the players, the color that is most brilliant in decoration.” Others saw the color scarlet as a shade considered a warm color that had a reputation for inciting anger. In spring 1894, after correspondence with Harvard, Illinois, Wisconsin and others to avoid conflict with their colors, recommendations were made to adopt the color maroon. Debates on campus and meetings of dissatisfied students began, some voting for scarlet others maroon. By the summer 1894 the color maroon had officially been adopted and students had begun to be seen wearing the new shade.
This ribbon was the piece of fabric used by the administrative and student committees when voting for the new university color.